The conventional wisdom about building a home seems to be to choose your house plans and then find a lot that fits. Even though I'm far from a building expert, I'm going to completely disagree. I say find your perfect piece of land for your custom home, then choose a plan that fits your lot.
The reason for this reversal is simple. There are billions of house plans available, and you're bound to find many to fit your needs. And if you don't? Do what we did. Design your own. But vacant lots that are a reasonable match for you are likely much harder to find.
One of the best things about our enormous home on the five acre lot, was that we had blow-your-mind views for about 270 degrees around. And if the large windows in the back were positioned correctly, you had an amazing panorama of mountains and lake during the day, and a gorgeous, twinkly view of the city across the lake at night.
Every night before bed I would stand in the bay window and just stare at the beauty. I never got tired of it.
Since everyone in my subdivision had a five acre lot or better, no one had a view of the next-door-neighbor's wall. Everyone had the opportunity to build to the view, either by designing a home that had window strategically placed to take it all in, or by positioning the windows of whatever plan they chose in the right direction. But almost no one did!
Most of the dozens and dozens of homes in Cedar Pass Ranch were plans picked from a book—without regard to the view—and plopped onto the lot perfectly square to the road. Even though there were no real space or easement constraints.
If they had considered the view as an important element, certainly they could have found—or modified—a plan that had the other things they needed (size, number of bedrooms, etc.) while still getting that great view every day.
Corner lots have particular advantages, but only if your house plan is designed to use them. For example, corner lots provide a really easy way to have a side-loading garage, without constraining the width of the house.
Last month, Sam and I attended the Parade of Homes (again). We looked at one very innovative green home at length (shown above, with a different lot and landscape). It was a beautiful home, but the driveway was short and incredibly steep. So steep that it was hard to walk on. I'd guess it was at least 30 degrees. I joked with the builder that it would be great for bobsledding. I can't imagine driving on it in the winter.
There were two very odd things about the house plan and the house placement:
The house and garage were facing the busier street, while the side fence was facing into a culdesac.
The front grade was very steep, but the grade from the sidewalk on the side to the house was level.
If they had chosen a plan that put the front door on the culdesac (desirable!) and pushed the driveway further back on the busy side, the drive would have been much more level (desirable!).
If they had faced the front door to the busy street (as they did) and chosen a plan with a side-loading garage (desirable!), the driveway would have been level (desirable!).
Given the options on that lot, it was baffling to see that they built in a difficult driveway that would definitely be a difficult selling point in the future.
If the land you buy has a slope, design the home to fit. Perhaps you'll have a walk-out basement. If it has some beautiful, mature trees, see if you can save some. If you have lovely topography, figure out how to emphasize it.
When do you have direct sunlight poring in the windows or bathing the porch or patio? Make optimal use of the light and shade for the most livable home, by the way you design your house.
When you have the luxury of building a custom home, don't forget to customize it to the lot you buy as well. Choose your lot, then design your home so that they are a perfect match.